Monday, October 30, 2017

Low Key in London

London Night Lights

This should probably  be split into at least two posts. But since I am already two destinations away, you're getting it all in one big monster narration of my last week in London.

While a week seems like more than enough time to do an awful lot of things, I didn't realize until I'd left again that I'd forgotten to do a few things. One was going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which may not seem like a big deal, except for the fact that I'd bought one of the not-cheap tickets before I'd even left the States. Grrr...

While my photographic abilities haven't improved - in fact, they may have gotten worse while I'm getting used to new equipment - that didn't stop me from taking a ridiculous amount of pictures. One of the things I enjoy most is just walking around and looking at stuff. So, heads up if you've got a slow connection, this could take a while to load.

THEATER

Or, theatre...or cinema. They're all correct and I enjoyed them all in London.

The Play that Goes Wrong

Just as I planned, I went to see the same show in London I saw in New York right before leaving for London. And, just as expected, neither was significantly better than the other.

I do have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't laugh any less because I knew what was coming. That is a testament to the abilities of both the playwright and the casts.

It's possible that I enjoyed the New York production slightly more because my humor is shaped somewhat by my background. I suspect a Brit may be similarly partial to the English production. There were 2 characters whose performers I preferred in New York because of this, but there was a 3rd performer who I think just did a better job outright.

On the other hand, there was one performer in London who I thought outdid the NY counterpart by far. Overall, however, all of that had very little impact on my enjoyment of the show in either location. I laughed my head off in both places.

It was an interesting experiment, and I'm glad I did it. I have to say, though, British audiences are tough. The show got a standing ovation in New York, but not in London, though I thought it was a fairly equal performance. 

The Knowledge


I heard about The Knowledge the very first time I went to London, in the 70s, and found it fascinating. I was told that drivers of the famous Black Taxis had to learn every street, landmark and commercial address in London before they could qualify to drive a Black Cab, and that it took about 2 years.

So when I got to London and found that there was a play about The Knowledge set in the 70s, I had to go see it. And I wasn't disappointed. Even with the most minimal of sets, the story and characters were compelling throughout the entire performance. A really nice touch was the short film of interviews with real cabbies about their experience, shown before the performance.

Loving Vincent

I'm not sure where I even came across a mention of this
movie. I haven't seen anything before or since, except when I've deliberately gone looking. But this, for me, was one of the best things ever. Because I have been a huge Van Gogh fan forever. 

Still, I can't believe how little I actually knew about the man's life, and death. For instance, most people know that he cut his own ear off. But did you know that he gave it as a present to a hooker? 

Unsurprisingly, she wasn't real thrilled with it. But the fact that he did so, in my opinion, indicates a whole different spectrum to his mental health issues than the self-mutilation alone.

Yet, as fascinating as the story is, it is the way it's presented that is absolutely breathtaking. The entire movie is shown through Van Gogh paintings, almost like animation, but a true visual feast. Take a quick look, to see what I mean. It's amazing.

Also, I know Don McLean's song, Vincent, has gotten a lot of hate, but I've always liked it. And hearing it in the context of the movie, sung in a raspy voice by Lianne La Havas, gives it quite a punch.

I saw the movie at Curzon Cinemas in The Brunswick, a small Bloomsbury shopping center with the tiniest theater I've ever seen in my life. It has 6 rows, with 6 seats in each row.

Great venue, though, and I believe there are actually 3 more cinemas in the place. Stylish and comfy, great snacks and alcohol. So civilized. ;)

DINING

I love British pubs. I don't drink much, so I mostly just get stuff to eat in them. And I don't set the bar very high for how good the food is - though, naturally, I prefer it isn't terrible. But what I want most is a visual treat and/or atmosphere. 

This trip, as usual, I took photos of pubs. Because I love the way they look, both inside and out.

Stupidly, though, I forgot to go into any of them. I didn't realize until I sat down to write this post that I did not step foot into a single pub, the entire time I was in England. I also did not once make it south of the river, and I love the south bank area.

Oh well, just more reasons to go back. Which I plan to do this spring, if not before.


Oh wait, I just remembered that I did try to go into one. The Charing Cross Theatre, where I saw The Knowledge, has a restaurant attached where I planned to dine pre-show. I completely forgot it was Saturday night, so when I walked into the restaurant and found it completely empty except for one couple off to the side, I asked the bartender if I could sit anywhere or needed to be seated.

When he asked if I had a booking, I involuntarily looked around at the room full of empty tables before saying with a hint of disbelief, "No, do I need one?" 

I was pretty flabbergasted when he said they were full for the night, and I couldn't help another involuntary glance around the nearly empty room.  I wasn't at all appeased when he said the nearby Italian restaurant was excellent.  

I'm old enough to remember when England used to be ridiculed for its cuisine, but I'm pretty sure London now has more a more varied food scene than anywhere else in the world. Except, I was planning on going to Italy, so I kind of didn't want Italian food in London.

Which meant that I ignored the bartender's advice and, instead of going left toward the Italian place, I went right...toward the Princess of Wales pub. Only it was full, too, and it finally dawned on me that this was a Saturday night. 

L'ULIVO

When it turned out that there was no problem seating me, I wondered why it wasn't full, as well. Did that mean it wasn't as good as the first two places I tried? I seriously doubt it.

Everything was so good, it was like the universe conspired to give me a fabulous meal in spite of doing all I could to prevent it. I started with a Caprese salad, went on to linguine with white clam sauce and finished with creme caramel accompanied by coffee with Frangelico.

There is a coffee with liqueur option on the dessert menu, but it had Tia Maria, Bailey's and something else as the liqueur choices. But the waitress assured me there would be no problem substituting Frangelico. In short, the food was fabulous, the service flawless and the restaurant cozy. 

So I absolutely loved every second of my splurge for that week.

SOMERSET HOUSE

As I mentioned on Twitter, I don't know how Somerset House managed to escape my notice for so long. But it was someone's tweet that alerted me to its existence, because someone posted a link to Bill Nighy's ad for the Courthauld Gallery, which is housed there.

Woman in an Interior by Pierre Bonnard
I love Bill Nighy, and the ad is fabulous, but the paintings shown in the ad are just the kind of things I like. So that definitely went to the top of my list of things to do. But then I came across an item about a Moroccan born artist who is doing Andy Warhol things with Arabic culture in an exhibit there at the moment. Given my near future plans to visit Morocco, that was also a priority visit.

Rider by Hassan Hajjaj
Hassan Hajjaj's paintings are glorious. They're colorful, inspiring, beautiful, cheerful and interesting. I loved them, can you tell? The pamphlet says that he blends blends "...the glossy aesthetic of a fashion shoot with Moroccan tradition and street culture...", and that's about right.

Like so many incredible experiences in the UK, the exhibition is absolutely free. When you think of the quality of the art and the opulence of the venue, it's pretty mind-boggling.

Christ Church Spitalfields, Early Summer by Leon Kossoff
The Courthauld Gallery is not free. The adult admission is £10.50, and worth every blessed pence. More, in fact, a lot more. 

I know absolutely nothing about art, not even what I like, as it turns out. I thought I was basically just an Impressionist fan, and found out just a couple of years ago that my favorites - such as Van Gogh - were actually post-Impressionists. But it's basically that kind of non-realism that appeals to me most.

Girl with Roses by Lucian Freud
However, I do have my limits. And my preferences, regardless of my ignorance. So there are some pieces that I think look like they were done by people who hadn't quite got the hang of anatomy or perspective.







Still Life in a Major Key by Mikhail Larionov

While others don't seem any better to me than what some kindergartner might throw together during free time.

I know, I'm such a philistine, right?







Blue Cap by Alexej Jawlensky
And yet, there are some pieces which might seem to qualify for that which I still love.










The Boats at Martigues by Raoul Dufy
There are others I thought at first were like that which, upon closer inspection, I came to like very much.







Portrait of Dolly by Kees van Dongen
To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure where the line is drawn. And it doesn't really matter because my opinion about art is important to no one, not even me. I can usually find stuff that I like, or at least find interesting, almost anywhere.

Still, there were a few things I thought were worth noting.



York Way Railway Bridge from Caledonian Road, Winter by Leon Kossoff
For instance, I really loved the painting above by Kossoff, Christ Church in Spitalfields. But then there was this other one, of York Way Railway Bridge, that I literally could not make out what it was. It wasn't until I looked at my own photo that I could discern any shapes I could understand. 


Then, once again, I found the difference between seeing paintings in real life so much more powerful than looking at the same things in photos, whether online or in books, or even my own photos on my computer. 

I have no idea who these paintings are by, or what they're called, and I don't care. But I know that you can't see the lifelike texture of this woman's skin the way you can in the painting.


You also can't see the delicacy of the neck ruffs of all the people in this painting. But I can tell you that I was spellbound in front of it for quite some time, looking at all the details, in spite of the fact that this is not at all the type of painting I usually like.




What you can see in that painting, however, is glare from the lights above it and elsewhere in the room. That was the only thing about the Courthauld Gallery that I did not like at all, and I was surprised by it. I've never been in a museum or gallery before that the lighting was an actual obstacle to viewing the art.

I was fascinated by this guy's skin tones, as well. His beard, too. But you can see a reflection of the window behind me right smack in the middle of this painting.

Whereas, in this huge painting of Cain and Abel, I had to keep moving around for a while until I could see the face of the guy in the headlock.

I took this photo standing right in front of this painting. The glare goes from top to bottom, but is much worse right in the middle.



BATHROOMS

This is such a long post, I know I should just skip my bathroom fetish, but I went to two which shot straight to the top of my list of favorites, so I have to share them here.

The ladies toilet at L'ulivo's is not only beautiful and elegant, it is impressive for being both in a tiny space. And huge bonus points for hand lotion next to the soap. Much appreciated.

On the other hand, Curzon Cinemas may have tiny theaters in a small shopping center, but their ladies room is spacious and a bit spacey looking. 

This photo does not do it justice, but it had a very serene and somewhat elegant vibe of its own.

Still, I might not have been quite so impressed had it not been for the stalls.

Talk about spacey looking. The doors were all closed, so you didn't get the full effect until you opened one, and then what a surprise. 

They had this wild pink glow going on. Wowser.





So, that was my week in London. Or, at least, the things I did besides just walking around, taking pictures and buying paracetamol with codeine over the counter at every Boots I came to just because I could.

I then took the Eurostar to Paris. I love everything about that trip. Leaving from St. Pancras, which is gorgeous, and arriving at Gare du Nord, which I also love. Midtown to midtown is so convenient, and the journey so comfy. I mostly stuck to lesser known attractions there, as well, that post coming up next. 

Currently I'm in Montpellier for a week, and will hopefully have a post up soon after I leave. 

I plan to visit Arles, another stop on my Van Gogh fangirl journey - I'm kicking myself for not going back to Amsterdam before heading south from Paris. Then I am headed to Tangier on the 12th. 

Not quite sure, still, what I'm doing between now and then. But I've got a few more days to figure it out. Will let you know how it goes. Au revoir!


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